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War Stories 

Crank Call

Published April 2, 2003 at 5:00 p.m.

When the bombs began to hit Baghdad last week, I took a short break from the war. I just shut it off, tuned it out and refused to hear a word about it for five days. I think it was five days -- who's counting? "It's a little early for post-mortems," says Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and for once I agree with him: "It's a little early to write history." And too late to read it, alas.

Poor Rummy. Maybe it was a mistake to let those reporters bunk with the troops. "Embedded" sounds so much like "in bed with" -- even in today's integrated, unisex forces there are bound to be indiscretions. I went back to the news on Sunday and found nothing but generals on TV, all of them saying how well the war was going and how everything about it -- from top to bottom, start to finish, conception to inevitable, victorious conclusion -- was proceeding exactly and precisely "as scheduled," "on target," "without pause," etc.

Really, I had no idea things were so bad until everyone told me they weren't, and I certainly hope, when this mess is over, that the medical definition of Gulf War II Syndrome will include the kind of disorientation I'm now feeling.

That, of course, isn't due only to the break in news coverage. Was it just last June that Rev. Jerry Vines, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, warned the faithful that "Allah is not Jehovah" and that "Jehovah's not going to turn you into a terrorist that will try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people"? From the "imminent threat" of Saddam Hussein and his "weapons of mass destruction" to the currently "not paused" fighting on the ground, "real time" has played no part in the battle for Iraq.

Picture it: There I was last Monday or Tuesday, Day 6 or 7, respectively, of "Operation Free Latifah," and all I heard about was "Shock and Awe." Shock and Awe! Shock and Awe! Saddam was either dead or in the toilet and there were the most amazing, "interactive" explosions going off over Baghdad. Great, big blasts and fiery bangs -- very picturesque.

I was shocked, yes, and definitely awed. But, more than that, I was depressed. In fact, I was disgusted. Mental-health experts are already worried about "war-news overload" on the national psyche -- ours -- while pollsters detect the first signs of "war fatigue" in television viewers. Even CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour, posing as a journalist somewhere near Basra, wishes her network would do "more in-depth pieces."

"They think 'live' brings more spontaneity," Amanpour remarked last week. "'Keep it moving, keep it moving,' is what they tell us." At home, we're on "orange alert" -- you know, right next to red! -- but I wasn't afraid for my safety until I heard a pro-war protestor, somewhere in Minnesota, tell CNN that the antiwar movement in America "is led by communists." That's when I pulled all the plugs and the blinds -- too late, unfortunately, to escape Minnesota's cruelest words: "We say to those who oppose this war, go to France."

How I wish I could -- you have no idea! How I wish I could say something about this war, too, this unconscionable slaughter, that hasn't been said before, won't be said again, and isn't being said right now. The failure of Bush's policy in Iraq is plain to all the world and will stand as one of the darkest stains on our nation's history. How's that? It's only words, and there are millions of them.

How about these, from the Associated Press: "U.S. troops shot and killed at least 10 Iraqi civilians -- five of them small children -- in a vehicle at a checkpoint Monday in southern Iraq near Karbala."

From the London Times: "'The Iraqis are sick people and we are the chemotherapy,' said [American] Corporal Ryan Dupre. 'I am starting to hate this country. Wait 'til I get hold of a friggin' Iraqi. No, I won't get hold of one. I'll just kill him.'"

From Reuters: "American television network NBC said on Monday it had fired veteran reporter Peter Arnett after he told Iraqi television the U.S. war plan against Saddam Hussein had failed."

From The New York Times: "'It's obvious that all the Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz battle plans are not panning out,' said a veteran Republican strategist based in Washing-ton... 'A month ago everybody in the world looked at the U.S. military as being 10 feet tall. We're not 10 feet tall.'"

No. Right now, we're about 2 feet tall, and I say that with all respect for the men and women forced to fight in Rummy's Folly, more and more of whom, both British and American, are spilling the beans to their bedmates in the press. May they please keep it up. And may the distinction between "supporting the troops" and supporting an illegal and immoral military action be made clearer to more people.

Meantime, fight. Let no one impugn your patriotism. In France, polls reveal a 90 percent approval rating for President Jacques Chirac's stand against Bush and his phony "coalition," while in Spain, our putative partner, an identical number are opposed to Prime Minister Aznar's decision to kiss Dubya's ass and send 900 troops to Iraq. People in Madrid and Barcelona have taken to "beating pots and pans out their windows at night," according to reports, in an effort to get their government's attention.

Think it would work here? Maybe kazoos would be better -- kazoos, loud raspberries and whoopee cushions. Used together, the noise they'd make might say more, and mean more, than a million words in the press.

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Peter Kurth

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